Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Piano Concertos, Children, and Social Cognitive Theory

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Piano Concertos, Children, and Social Cognitive Theory

Article excerpt

One of the most challenging moments in a piano instructor's career could conceivably be teaching a junior piano concerto to a young student. Not only must the teacher help the child learn a long, demanding piece, but also needs to navigate through the complexities of chamber music. By drawing on Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), which is a set of ideas on how people learn, I will propose various strategies to aid in teaching something as elaborate as a piano concerto.

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is largely associated with Albert Bandura who first published his findings in the mid-1970s. The underpinnings of this theoretical framework is that people learn from observing the behaviour of others. Structured on SCT's stages of learning, this article will focus on some aspects of this vast set of ideas and how these findings could be applied to piano-teaching.


"Fortunately, most human behaviour is learned by observation through modeling" (Bandura, 1986, p. 47).


One of the most intuitive ways to begin to learn a new skill is to have a "model," or a person of competence, demonstrate it. A model to help a young student learn a piano concerto could be a pianist performing in concert, a teacher playing excerpts during a lesson, or an artist leading a master class, for example. In addition to "live" demonstrations, both video and sound recordings of a musician interpreting the piece could likewise be used as models to facilitate the learning process.

Not only the teacher, but the parent could help with modeling for the child as well. During lessons the teacher could demonstrate using two pianos ideally positioned side-by-side. This way the teacher and young student have an unobstructed view of each other and the teacher can model posture. Furthermore, the child's left and right sides correspond to the teacher's which aids the learner in integrating the model's actions (Bandura, 1986, p. 90-91). If both pianos are of fine quality then the teacher can introduce subtleties like tone and phrasing without moving on and off the bench. For their part, some parents can be shown how to play short passages in the piece and then model them at home for the child. Parents could also ensure that the child is regularly watching the videos and listening to audio clips, and could record portions of the lesson to help with home practice.

Make them think

Perhaps a modeling approach which involves watching, listening, and imitating rather than relying solely on the score would appear to be "spoon-feeding" the student, as reflected in renowned piano pedagogue Tobias Matthay's comment: "always try to avoid making the pupils 'do,' always try to make them think" (1912, p. 21). Using modeling, however, does not inevitably mean that the pupil will never consult the score, or that the instructor will insist that students "do" with no questions asked. On the contrary, if modeling is done correctly, the child should still have plenty of opportunities to "think" and to make choices.

Of course, having a model show students every note step-by-step is not feasible nor desirable, but at the same time piano-playing involves undeniable physical and musical components that are difficult to notate or to explain. Demonstrations are useful in introducing the basic mechanics of piano-playing, as well as for suggesting various interpretations of a piece. Even in simple technical demonstrations, however, a more advanced student could be shown various fingerings, for example, and encouraged to experiment with other possibilities at home. Music educator Warren Haston writes:

The best use of modeling is to introduce new musical concepts and performance skills before students see the printed music.... Students learn the application before the theory. The new musical concept or performance skill is then practiced in various contexts and with specific printed music. (2007, p. 26)

Modeling is also an effective means of presenting several interpretive choices which can then act as a springboard for the students' own ideas. …

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